Birthright Experience in Israel

*This OP-ED article expresses and reflects the author’s views — not affiliated with the bipartisan values of VotingSmarter.

I went with a company called Shoresheim for a 10-day journey across Israel. Thirty-two young adults aged 18–22 came, along with a tour guide, security guard, and two advisors. Five Israeli soldiers were brought along to understand the similarities and differences we shared throughout the journey.

Day 1 — 2: Acre (Akko) is an old city in Israel with history drawn back from BCE. A reason they brought us here has to do with how you can actually feel the history as you

Day 3 — 4: Tzfat: the home of Kabbalah studies. In my opinion, it is one of the most spiritual places in this country. We took a tour of this small city and talked to locals with religious passions. They told us to “ask anything” as we dig deeper into the peoples' religious thoughts on women empowerment, religious outfit choices, and sex.

This was a privilege I’m so grateful to be a part of because when would I ever receive a better educator in this field than ones who live through it. We also made challah bread with one of the Kabbalists before heading to more hikes and views.

Day 4 — 5: Tel Aviv. All I have to say is wow. After visiting two cities flooded with history it was refreshing coming back to one of the liveliest cities in the world. I witnessed a lot of peers on my trip, shocked to see what Tel Aviv had to offer. Many of them didn’t expect such a thriving city to be in the center of Israel.

Tel Aviv is also one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. I can definitely understand why. The combination of city and beach life is unmatched.

The food option was a dream, whether it came from a local restaurant or the Carmel Market.

Transportation is easy even as a visitor. Traffic is prominent, but taking electric scooters and bikes was easy with a straight path overlooking the beach. If this doesn’t work, buses around Israel are always an option besides on Shabbos.

Day 5 — 6: Kibbutz. For Shabbos, we stayed in a Kibbutz, a small village or community center people in which people live. It was actually 2 miles away from the Gaza Strip. All of my peers on the trip including me were a little timid about this but my tour guide and security guard assured us it would be fine.

We had Shabbat dinner, went to the community pool, played some sports, had a lot of downtimes, and bonded with one another. If anything I just cherished the moments I had here the most because they bonded my group as a whole.

Day 6 — 7: Bedouin tents in the south. We stayed the night here, talked to local Bedouins, rode camels, hiked Masada, and enjoyed the peace. Being immersed in Bedouin cultures was so fascinating. After going out to Tel Aviv to see extravagant city life it was great to go into the depths of the desert and live a simple life.

Day 8 — 10: Jerusalem. All I can say is I have a newfound connection with this city. It is beautiful how people of all religions have their own love for Jerusalem. You can feel the energy of all religions as you take in the scenery.

Going to the Wailing Wall, people sob and pray for hours. If you don’t feel the magic from that alone I would be shocked. I appreciated seeing the love so many people hold in this city and it is something so magnificent.

There was also a nightlife as well which was surprising as other birthright groups joined the big market in Jerusalem called Machane Yehuda.

There are so many layers to Israel is something I got out of birthright. I’ve never been exposed to such different cultures until these past 10 days. It was almost overwhelming.

One day we were at one of the biggest party cities in the world and the next we were at the holiest city in the world. Then again one day we were exploring the oldest city in the world to later head to the Bedouin tents to spend the night. Where else would you be able to see such depth in such a small country?

A major point of birthright is to get young Jews to stick to their roots and have the same connection our community does with Israel. I believe they did a spectacular job tackling this task and will never forget this journey I was blessed to partake in.

Another thing I am shocked about after going on this trip is how is this possible? How is birthright able to send thousands of Jews at a time on an all-inclusive trip to Israel? How am I able to go on this free trip because of my religion alone? I didn’t pay a dime when it came to flights, hotels, transportation, activities, and most meals.

The closest answer I have is that Jews base their religion on community.

They believe if you continue to give back and teach the younger generations to love Israel, we will stay a strong country and hopefully educate the young so they can pass their experience along to their children and keep the unity. Being Jewish immediately gives you a sense of belonging, as every religion does. Birthright was such a blessed way to show young American Jews this.

A story I took away from the tour guide: one day, a little Palestinian boy was trying to reach his attention. He went up to the boy, thinking of how cute he was as he moved closer, the little boy slingshot a rock straight into his eye. He started cursing out this kid, and once he did this, a photographer came out of nowhere and took pictures of this.

Now in the tabloids, my tour guide is known as an Israeli who yells at little Palestinian children. He gets confronted on the street because of this and it is something he now has to learn to live with.

As an Israeli in America, it feels like I need to hide who I am. I am scared to tell people about my ethnicity and cover it up so I don’t offend anybody. What I’m taking out of this trip the most is to embrace my roots because there is no reason to feel bad about where I come from and how I was raised.

I don’t want to get that political when talking about my trip. I just want people to remember there are two sides to every story and I was raised and educated to love where I come from. But nonetheless, I am glad I was able to go on this trip and peel the many layers Israel showed me!

Contributed by Shani Hasson, Marketing Intern for VotingSmarter

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